On Music & Malcolm X

Malcolm and the Music

By Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali
San Francisco Bay View | May 19, 2011

Malcolm X, loved then and now by the people, eulogized by Ossie Davis as our “Black Shining Prince” El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) was assassinated 46 years ago, on Feb. 21, 1965, because of his attempt to internationalize the struggle of African people inside the United States. Malcolm was born 86 years ago on May 19, 1925. While U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama has acknowledged Kwanzaa, I doubt very seriously if he will show Malcolm the same love.

Manning Marable’s new volume, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” has sparked a renewed interest and debate about Malcolm. Previous works like Karl Evanzz’ “The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X,” Zak Kondo’s “Conspiracies: Unraveling the Assassination of Malcolm X” and Bill Sales’ “From Civil Rights to Black Liberation: Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity” are all being reopened.

Contrary to popular belief, it was Malcolm, not Martin Luther King, who first opposed the war in Vietnam. Malcolm was the first American-born African leader of national prominence in the 1960s to condemn the war. He was later joined by organizations like the Revolutionary Action Movement, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. This was in the tradition of David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Martin R. Delaney, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Ella Baker and Paul Robeson.

Malcolm continued to link the struggles of African people worldwide. King came out against the Vietnam War in his famous April 4, 1967, speech at Riverside Church in New York City. Malcolm spoke against this war from the get-go.

Musicians have done their part to keep Malcolm’s legacy alive. Long before Spike Lee’s 1992 bio-pic, “X,” hip hop, house, reggae and R’n’B artists created music for Malcolm, high-life and great Black music (so-called jazz) artists first wrote and sang about Malcolm. The dance of Malcolm’s time was the “lindy hop,” and he was a master of it. “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” which Malcolm wrote with the assistance of Alex Haley, gives a vivid description of his love of dancing.

Years later, on a visit to the West African nation of Ghana, Malcolm spoke of seeing Ghanaians dancing the high-life. He wrote: “The Ghanaians performed the high-life as if possessed. One pretty African girl sang ‘Blue Moon’ like Sarah Vaughan. Sometimes the band sounded like Charlie Parker.” Malcolm’s impact on Ghana was so great that one folk singer created a song in his honor called “Malcolm Man.”

After Malcolm’s death, many jazz artists recorded music in his memory. Among them, Leon Thomas recorded the song, “Malcolm’s Gone” on his “Spirits Known and Unknown” album; saxophonist-poet-playwright Archie Shepp recorded the poem, “Malcolm, Malcolm Semper Malcolm,” on his Fire Music album. Shepp drew parallels between Malcolm’s spoken words and John Coltrane’s music.

Said Shepp: “I equate Coltrane’s music very strongly with Malcolm’s language, because they were just about contemporaries, to tell you the truth. And I believe essentially what Malcolm said is what John played. If Trane had been a speaker, he might have spoken somewhat like Malcolm. If Malcolm had been a saxophone player, he might have played somewhat like Trane.”

Malcolm wrote: “The Ghanaians performed the high-life as if possessed. One pretty African girl sang ‘Blue Moon’ like Sarah Vaughan. Sometimes the band sounded like Charlie Parker.” Malcolm’s impact on Ghana was so great that one folk singer created a song in his honor called “Malcolm Man.”

Shortly before Malcolm’s death, he visited Toronto and appeared on CBC television with Pierre Berton. During the visit, Malcolm spent time with award-winning author Austin Clarke talking about politics and music. Time was too short to organize a community meeting, but a few lucky people gathered at Clarke’s home on Asquith Street. Clarke had interviewed Malcolm previously, in 1963 in Harlem, when he was working for the CBC. Clarke recalled they “talked shop.”  ...

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Toronto-based journalist and radio producer Norman (Otis) Richmond can be heard on Diasporic Music the last Thursday of every month at 8-10 p.m., Uhuru Radio every other Sunday 2-4 p.m., Saturday Morning Live on Saturdays 10 a.m.-1 p.m. He can be reached by e-mail at norman.o.richmond@gmail.com.

http://sfbayview.com/2011/malcolm-and-the-music/